Tuned In: Cote De Pablo's departure troubles 'NCIS' fans

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- A TV truism: Viewers almost always care more about TV characters than the actors who play them.

For some viewers, watching TV can be an intimate experience as they bond with the people, whether they are newscasters or fictional characters, who show up on their living room TV screen.

But for actors, even if they love their job, it's still a job.

The latest example of this disconnect is the case of actress Cote de Pablo, a Carnegie Mellon grad, who announced a few weeks ago that she will leave her role as Ziva David on the CBS hit "NCIS."

"I've had eight great years with 'NCIS' and Ziva David," the actress said in a statement. "I have huge respect and affection for Mark [Harmon], Gary [Glasberg], Michael [Weatherly], David [McCallum], Rocky [Carroll], Pauley [Perrette], Brian [Dietzen], Sean [Murray], all of the team and CBS. I look forward to finishing Ziva's story."

That wasn't enough for some fans who have taken to conspiracy theorizing. A Dutch "NCIS" fan sent an email to TV critics this week that said, "For many reasons, most fans do not believe CBS's official statement saying that Cote wanted to leave. Of course, we do not know the situation and are not certain about anything. Everything is very vague and the more we think about it, the stranger it all seems."

But it's actually not that strange for a professional to want to change jobs. People do it all the time. Even actors.

A second fan email was somewhat less conspiracy-minded but did point to CBS's poor track record when it comes to the female cast of "Criminal Minds," but I'm not sure that theory withstands scrutiny either. "NCIS" is a more character-driven show, plus, it's the network's biggest hit making executives less likely to tinker with its successful formula.

Also, if CBS had fired Ms. de Pablo, whose contract was up in May, would she agree to return to film two more episodes to wrap up her character's story?

"We offered Cote de Pablo a lot of money and then we offered her even more money. We really didn't want to lose her," said CBS president Leslie Moonves. "It was purely her decision. 'NCIS' is our highest-rated show and we don't like losing anybody. We did everything humanly possible. We feel like we exhausted every possible opportunity and ultimately she decided she didn't want to do the show."

"NCIS" executive producer Gary Glasberg said he was surprised by Ms. de Pablo's choice to leave.

"She made a decision and this is the decision she's sticking with and we're not happy about it but it is what it is," he said.

Ms. de Pablo will return for the first two episodes of the show's upcoming 11th season (8 p.m. Sept. 24).

"We've come up with a storyline I'm very proud of actually and how it handles things in an appropriate way," Mr. Glasberg said. "We give Ziva fans everything they could want. It's emotional and action-packed."

He said her departure will be handled differently than that of the show's first female agent, Caitlin Todd (Sasha Alexander) who was shot in the head in the second season. It's expected that Ziva will still be living at the end of her last episode, allowing for a possible return at some point.

After Ziva's departure, Mr. Glasberg will allow for an appropriate mourning period.

"I can't deny there will be an empty desk in the squad room," he said. "I have to give people time to adjust and our characters time to adjust to her absence."

The hole Ziva's departure leaves won't be ignored: In the new season's third episode, an agent who is near retirement will get some "desk time" at Ziva's former desk. Eventually a new female character will be added to the show.

"Hopefully, when the time is right," Mr. Glasberg said, "someone will walk in the door and be the one."

Will 'Reign' reign?

The CW takes an unexpected page out of the premium cable playbook with its fall period drama, "Reign" (9 p.m. Oct. 17), about the teenage Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) and her 16th-century engagement to a French king's son (Toby Regbo).

"We said since I've been here that we're looking to expand and broaden our adults 18-34 [target demographic] to be more inclusive to men and women," said CW Entertainment president Mark Pedowitz, noting that "Arrow" brought men back to the network after the departure of "Smallville." With "90210" and "Gossip Girl" gone, "Reign" is intended to target women. "We took a shot at 'Reign,' which is high concept and very different [for us]. We knew with historical fiction we would attract women of all ages and pairing it with 'Vampire Diaries' gives 'Reign' the best shot."

"Reign" features teen drama and a modern music soundtrack, similar to the aural approach in "A Knight's Tale" and Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette." And although it will track with history, it won't be a slave to history.

"I, for one, am glad about a certain degree of creative license because according to history, I don't exist," said actor Torrance Coombs, who plays the king's bastard son.

Canadian actress Megan Follows, best known for the title role in "Anne of Green Gables," stars in the series as a scheming Queen Catherine.

"She has to live through other people's power, which makes it really complex for her," Ms. Follows said.

In other CW series news, the network is considering a spinoff of "Supernatural" that would be set in Chicago. The DC Comics character The Flash will be introduced this season on "Arrow" for a potential spinoff series down the road, but a possible "Wonder Woman" spinoff is on hold.

The CW renewed its summer re-launch of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" for a 24-episode second season. No premiere date or time was announced.

Williams gets 'Crazy'

Robin Williams, in his return to series television decades after "Mork & Mindy," stars in CBS's "The Crazy Ones" (9 p.m. Sept. 26) as a Chicago ad agency executive. His daughter (Sarah Michelle Gellar, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") works with him.

Producers describe the show as a workplace comedy about a father and a daughter more than it is a modern-day "Mad Men."

Mr. Williams appears to improvise his way through the pilot, but executive producer David E. Kelley ("Ally McBeal," "Boston Legal"), in his first foray into half-hour comedy, said Mr. Williams sticks to the script for a few takes and then they let him go wild for a few takes and pick and choose which versions to use in editing this single-camera comedy.

Mr. Kelley said he's surrounded himself with comedy writers since comedy is not his turf. Those writers include Dean Lorey ("Arrested Development") and Jon Kinmally and Tracy Poust ("Will & Grace").

The show's pilot episode shows the agency working on a McDonald's commercial, but executive producer/director Jason Winer said it's not product placement.

"When you're making up names of products, suddenly the show doesn't feel so real," Mr. Winer said. "So far no money has exchanged hands. McDonald's did not pay for anything in the pilot at all."

"But if you look under your chair," Mr. Williams chimed in, "there's a Happy Meal right now!"

Ms. Gellar said working with Mr. Williams feels familiar despite her past work on dramas, but familiar from her time at home with two children.

"It's sort of like when my 3-year-old says something really inappropriate and it's really funny but I can't laugh. That's kind of like working with Robin," she said. "Keep a straight face, keep a straight face!"

James Wolk ("Lone Star"), who played Bob Benson this past season on "Mad Men," joked that now he only does shows set at ad agencies. Mr. Wolk plays a lothario who works at the agency.

After the panel Mr. Wolk said he would do his best to work out schedules to return to "Mad Men" next season if that's something the "Mad Men" writers want.

Channel surfing

Tabloid train wreck Lindsay Lohan will guest host "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m. weeknights) on Monday. ... Disney Channel has renewed "Gravity Falls" for a second season.

On the web

Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.

mobilehome - tvradio

Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.


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